As the last flimsy remnants of Ianto’s shields failed and his fragile mind shut down completely the frightened young man sent out a last mental plea for help desperately trying to alert those he was closest to of the danger he was in.
The kid, Kieran, was scared out of his mind; Jack could see clear proof of that in the way he kept twitching his fingers and darting nervous glances into every corner. At one point, Jack would have sworn that Kieran actually jumped and squeaked with fear when Rhys bumped into a chair and knocked it over. Despite the length of time he’d been in the village, Kieran held no new answers for them; once Jack had easily disarmed him he’d meekly surrendered to the team’s will. Under Jack’s steely glare, he’d simply moved out of the way and perched on a kitchen stool as the group took over the house he’d been hiding in.
Aware of how much pain she was in, mostly because she never stopped moaning and crying out, Rhys and Owen had worked as quickly and carefully as they could to move Gwen inside, manfully ignoring her constant criticism of their rough handling of her. Now, on the other side of the room from Kieran Owen was using the table to patch Gwen up the best he could using the basic first aid equipment in his med pack.
A sudden shrill cry jolted Owen from his work; he had just finished stitching Gwen’s wound closed and was applying an antiseptic salve and bandage. Whirling around, he could only watch in rapt horror when, as if they were one, Jack, Caden and Rhys stumbled and fell to their knees. The medic had no way of knowing that their psychic links to Ianto had flared to life with blazing hot pain as the young Welshman’s mental agony had burned through their minds. Just as suddenly, the three men threw their heads back, arched backwards until their spines cracked and then they screamed again as their tenuous link to Ianto was cut off completely. Despite his years of emergency medical training, Owen was frozen in place, unable to react as he watched his friends nearly collapse under the sudden and paralyzing psychic backlash.
Finally gathering his wits about him, Owen rushed over to his team and dropped down next to his mate. "Bloody hell!" he muttered in dismay as Rhys slumped into him; he carefully lifted the lids of the other man's eyes and saw that they were glazed over and he seemed completely out of it. Concerned by Rhys’ condition, Owen glanced over to see that both Jack and Caden were in a similar state before returning his attention to Rhys. “Can you hear me, Rhys?” he asked quietly as he stroked gentle fingers along the side of the stricken man’s face.
Out of the corner of his eye Owen caught sight of Gwen trying to sit up and he found himself shaking his head with disgust as Gwen forced herself off the table and began to move towards Jack. While he appreciated her willingness to help out in a crisis, it might have done a lot more for him if the only reason she was doing so was because once again, she was letting her crush on Jack rule her judgement.
There was a low groan from the immortal man and Owen glanced over at him; he did not like what he saw, not one little bit. The look in Jack’s stormy blue eyes was that of a wounded and feral animal that knew it was trapped. The medic could see that Jack was desperate and that it wasn’t wise to approach him now and for a moment, he considered warning Gwen. ‘Not that she’s going to listen to me,’ Owen thought with a scowl.
Reaching Jack’s side Gwen went to place her hand on his shoulder only for Jack’s hand to shoot up and catch her wrist in a bruising grip. “Don’t touch me!” Jack snarled out, his teeth bared. With a look of complete revulsion, he shoved the meddling woman away from him, not caring that she fell on her butt with a cry of pain. The last thing he needed right at this critical moment was to be smothered by her pity or her worry. Gwen’s thoughts would only distract him as he tried with all his might to reach out and find Ianto.
‘Ianto? Ianto, can you hear me? Please, Cariad, you’re scaring me! I just need to know you’re okay,’ Jack begged through their bond and when no answer came Jack’s world turned a little darker and his heart became a lot colder.
“Jack, what’s wrong? Why are you acting like this?” Gwen couldn’t understand why Jack didn’t want her to touch him. ‘Can’t he see I’m worried about him?’ “You need me, Jack, you need my help! Please, sweetheart, let me take care of you!” She brought up a few crocodile tears but her efforts were wasted; Jack was entirely focused on reaching out to his Ianto.
“Ianto’s mental shields have shattered completely; what we just experienced was the backlash from his psychic links with us all snapping at once.” Caden’s eyes glowed as he glared angrily at Gwen; residual pain from the loss combined with fear over his prince’s fate made his blood boil as he looked at Gwen. “And you played a big role in their destruction; your petty hate has been steadily wearing Ianto’s shields down and your relentless unfounded jealousy never gave him the peace he needed to rebuild them.” Caden snarled at her.
“How dare you speak to me like that!” Gwen huffed indignantly. “Jack! Did you hear what he just said?” ‘Why isn’t Jack defending me?’
Continuing as if Gwen hadn’t spoke, Caden gave her a withering look. “You just couldn’t let it go, could you? You just couldn’t accept that Ianto was the one that Jack loved and not you? And now because of you, Ianto and Toshiko are in more danger than ever!”
Seeing Caden’s tightly clenched fists and fire-flashing eyes, Gwen wanted to take a step away from the angry knight but Jack’s sudden grip on her arm prevented her from moving. Thinking that Jack had finally realised that she was in danger and was going to protect her, she gasped as she saw that as the immortal was glaring daggers at her. “Gwen, I think it would be best if you stay here with Kieran while we go find Ianto and Tosh,” Jack ordered sternly as he let go of her and managed to shakily climb to his feet. He was forced to grip the counter next to him when his knees threatened to give in.
Gwen’s jaw dropped and her eyes flew wide open. “You can’t leave me here alone! There are cannibals out there! I refuse to be left alone!” Her voice abruptly changed from shrill and demanding to overly-sweet and cajoling. “Jack, I get that you’re worried about Tosh, I’m worried about her too, but you can’t just abandon me. I’m mean too much to you and you need me at your side.” It never even occurred to her that she’d once again neglected to include Ianto.
Amazed by Gwen’s absolute lack of sensitivity Jack shook his head and his jaw locked as he glared even more fiercely at Gwen. “Gwen, you’re far safer than Ianto…” he placed extra emphasis on his mate’s name, “…and Tosh are at this moment. Besides you’re injured and you’ll just slow us down. “In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll be a liability for us. You’re staying here so we don’t have to waste our time worrying about you, and for once, Gwen Cooper, you will do as you are told or so help me I will handcuff you to the chair.”
As he helped Rhys to his feet Owen listened to Jack put Gwen in her place and he had a hard time hiding his smirk even as he encouraged his mate to lean against him. ‘It’s about bloody time!’ He knew that such a dramatic loss of a psychic bond between mates would have had a catastrophic effect on a lesser man, and the fact that Jack was able to recover his wits in a relatively short amount of time spoke to the strength of his love for Ianto and his desire to re-establish their connection.
It was obvious that Jack’s tenuous hold on his anger was close to snapping and it was a sure bet that Gwen was going to be the one who would push his buttons. Before the woman could go too far and end up risking her neck, Owen intervened. “Jack, I hate to say this but Gwen does actually have a point. We have no idea how many of those bastards are out there just waiting for us to make a mistake. I know there’s no point in trying to talk either of you two out of going,” Owen arched an eyebrow as he gestured to Jack and then Caden who was still glaring at Gwen, “So if Gwen stays behind, then either Rhys or I will have to stay back as well.”
"I’ll stay.” His voice still raspy and weak, Rhys spoke up suddenly as he reluctantly forced himself to push away from Owen and on shaky legs he made his way over to Jack. “You and Caden have to go; your mates are in danger here and Owen needs to go in case they need medical attention. That makes me the logical and only choice.” Jack could see by the look in Rhys’ eyes that staying with Gwen was a very distasteful option but one that he would undertake in order to help his prince.
Jack wondered how logical it was leaving Rhys and Gwen together with only Kieran to play mediator should their previous relationship become a topic of heated conversation. Jack grinned ruefully as he looked at the boy, huddled in a small ball on the stool; Kieran wouldn’t be a very good given he was scared to death. Unfortunately Rhys was right; Gwen really wasn’t in any condition to be of use to the team and he was the only choice. Ianto needed him and there was no way that Caden was staying behind when Tosh was out there somewhere and even though he prayed they wouldn’t, they might need Owen.
“Thank you, Rhys; I really do appreciate your sacrifice.” Jack clapped him on the shoulder. “We’ll be back as soon as we’ve found Ianto and Tosh.”
“But... but, Jack! You can’t be serious!” Gwen’s voice rose shrilly. “Why can’t you stay with me and let Rhys go find Ianto?” she demanded loudly. “You need to stay here and take care of me!” She didn’t want to be alone with Rhys and Kieran; she wanted to be alone with Jack so that he could finally say how he really felt about her. Gwen was positive that after seeing her gravely wounded, having faced the possibility that she might have died, Jack wouldn’t waste any time in confessing his love for her.
There was one thing still niggling at the back of Gwen’s mind; why was Jack so eager to find the damn Tea-Boy? ‘If Ianto’s mental shields have shattered shouldn’t Jack be free of Ianto’s mind control? He should be listening to me now. Something is going on here and I’m going to find out what it is!’ Gwen knew she couldn’t let Jack go back to Ianto, not when it was clear that he was still trapped under whatever control Ianto had over him.
Jack’s eyes narrowed dangerously as he glared at the source of his aggravation. Gwen’s strident voice was grating on his already ragged nerves, he was tired of her constantly questioning his orders, but most importantly he was enraged beyond reason by her never-ending criticism of and insults to his relationship with Ianto. ’Why can’t she get it through her thick head that nothing and no one means more to me than Ianto Jones!’ Jack fumed silently as he fought to get his temper under control.
At last, the immortal was calm enough to talk rationally to Gwen rather than let his Webley speak for him. “Listen to me, Gwen Cooper, your time at Torchwood Three is hanging by a thread, a rapidly decaying thread. This is the last time I’m going to say this so you need to listen: Ianto Jones is my mate. I love him and I’m in a relationship with him and nothing you can say or do is ever going to change my mind.” The fire in his eyes flashed dangerously as Gwen opened her mouth to protest; when she saw how perilously close she was to crossing the line, her mouth closed with an audible snap.
“It’s high time you stopped thinking of yourself and started thinking about your teammates for once in your life! Tosh and Ianto are trapped out there alone with cannibals hunting them. Somehow I think that’s more important than your little tempter tantrum, don’t you? We are done having this conversation,” Without giving the woman a chance to answer, Jack whirled around and began to stalk off. “Caden, Owen, come on.”
A sharp whistle caught his attention and Jack turned just in time to fling his hand up and catch the keys Rhys tossed his way. Jack glanced between the keys and the man with curiosity shining in his stormy blue eyes.
“You’ll cover more ground with a vehicle,” Rhys pointed out helpfully. “It’s parked a couple of houses down.”
For the first time since he’d lost contact with Ianto Jack felt the stirrings of hope begin to warm the icy cold of his heart. “Thank you, Rhys,” he nodded; there was no mistaking the pure gratitude in his voice.
“You’re welcome; just bring them back to us.” Despite all his years of training as a knight and his service to the Royal Family, Rhys knew that Jack was the only one who could truly help Ianto right now. ‘I just hope that Kathy has managed to get in contact with them.’ As he watched Owen disappear out the door, Rhys sent a prayer to the heavens that Jack and Owen would be successful in their rescue and that his mate would come back to him safely.
Kathy’s legs buckled from beneath her and she fell to floor in an ungainly heap as she clutched her head in agony; it felt like her mind was on fire! Frightened, Estelle rushed to her new friend’s side knelt down beside her.
"Kathy, are you alright?" Estelle wrapped her arms around the other female and supported Kathy the best she could. Kathy’s grip on her arm was quite painful, but Estelle didn’t complain; she could see her friend was in pain.
Brilliant flashes of blinding white lightning lit up Cardiff’s star-studded night sky as Kathy unleashed her rage. “Someone has hurt my prince! Help me over to the phone; there’s someone I need to call. Ianto is in grave danger; his mental shields have completely failed!”
Estelle's free hand flew to her mouth as she gasped in horror; she adored Ianto Jones and she’d seen the pain the young man tried to hide from everyone else. While she may not fully understand the dangers Ianto was now facing, she surmised from the pain and fear marring Kathy's handsome face that it couldn't be anything good. Gathering her strength, she helped the taller woman to her feet and then walked her to the armchair, where the woman collapsed, reaching for the telephone with a shaking hand.
Tosh wasn’t sure how long she’d been running or even what direction she was running in at that moment and truth be told she truly didn’t care; she just knew that she needed to put as much distance as she could between herself and the farm house. ‘I’ve got to find Jack; he’ll know what to do!’ Yes, Tosh had a little bit of hero worship when it came to Jack but that was only because he really was her hero; he rescued her from her UNIT and given her back her life. She would believe in the pure goodness and absolute bravery of Jack for the rest of her life.
“You can run all you waa-ant, little girl…” The sing-song words came from somewhere behind her and Tosh felt her blood run cold. “…but we’re gonna find youuu!” The man was getting closer. “We’re gonna enjoy tasting you and chewing on your bones!” The horrifying voice continued to taunt her, its evil laughter forcing Tosh to push herself faster.
“It’s a shame we’re going to miss out on getting a taste of your friend; he looked to be quite the dish.” Another voice called out in the darkness and the unseen leer she could hear made her skin crawl with revulsion.
A soft whimper escaped Tosh's lips as she listened to the men talking about Ianto. ‘Oh Ianto, I hope I did the right thing leaving you behind. Please stay safe!’ She put on a burst of speed and abruptly turned to the left as she ran, thinking that her pursuers would expect her to continue going straight.
It was purely by chance that Tosh stumbled out onto the road several minutes later and she felt nothing but pure joy but that joy was cut short almost instantly as a painful grip landed on her shoulder. Without warning, Tosh found herself yanked backwards against a hard chest and a voice whispered sweetly in her ear, “Gotcha, my little Asian delicacy!”
To her absolute horror, her captor stuck out his tongue and licked the sweat from her neck, his fetid breath wafting under her nose and turning her stomach. Tosh trembled and swallowed thickly trying not to vomit as tears began to well up in her eyes. She had failed, Ianto had given her their only chance for survival and she had failed. ‘I’m so sorry, Ianto.’ The terrified Japanese woman was so lost in her thoughts she didn’t see the approaching headlights or hear the sound of an engine running; in fact she didn’t hear or see anything until a voice made of what Tosh could only describe as pure untamed wrath echoed through the woods.
"Get your filthy hands off of her!"
“Caden!” Tosh’s eyes flew open with astonishment as her lover’s voice washed over her and gave her the strength to start fighting again. As she struggled against the man who held her Tosh felt a very unladylike sense of pride and pleasure as she managed to twist herself free of his slack hold and kick him right in his manhood. With a single, rather high-pitched groan he grabbed himself with both hands and crumpled at her feet and for the first time since they were taken Tosh felt hope fill her.
The other man never even got the chance to twitch before he dropped to the ground like a rock from the bullet that ripped through his shoulder. Never before had Tosh seen such a wonderful and terrifying sight as Jack Harkness standing in the glow from the headlights of the parked car, his blue eyes blazing with pure fury. Tosh was sure that she could see a tiny wisp of smoke coming from the barrel of Jack’s Webley. "Where is my Ianto?" he demanded through clenched teeth.
The man he’d shot, who clearly had a death wish, smiled at Jack with his eyes full of gloating mirth. "If you mean that pretty little Welsh dish I reckon they’re just cutting into all that the tender-looking flesh right about now." He smacked his lips in an exaggerated motion. “I sure hope they save me a leg!” and he began to cackle with insane laughter.
Caden wrapped his arms protectively around a clearly shaken Tosh as she flew to his side. "Are you hurt?" he demanded as he pushed her just far enough that he could check her over for any sign of injury. When he couldn’t find anything more than a few scrapes and bruises, he heaved a great sigh of relief and sent a fervent prayer of gratitude to the heavens.
Tosh shook her head as she leaned back into Caden's arms, nestling into the comforting hold that he so willingly offered her. "No, I'm fine, Ianto made sure of that." She turned her attention to Jack, her voice as cold as ice and her eyes hard as steel. "Jack, I know where Ianto is, we don't need these pieces of slime."
Her meaning was not lost on anyone.
That sounded really good to Jack but he didn't Tosh to regret her decision later. "Are you sure you're fine with that?" His meaning was for her only; ‘Are you sure you can live with the fact that they’re dead?’
Tosh stared right into Jack's eyes. "I'm more than sure. They wanted to eat me and Ianto and it was only because Ianto sacrificed himself for me that I was able to get away. Monsters like them have no business being free or even being put in the same jail cells as other prisoners.” She shook her head resolutely. “No, we would be doing the human race a favour by removing scum like these from the gene pool."
Jack knew that Tosh would not change her mind and that was fine with him; these animals had hurt his beloved Ianto and his precious Toshiko. Even worse, they were going to eat his team! That was something Jack would never forgive. But still Jack didn't want Tosh to witness something so ugly. "Owen, get over here and check out Tosh, make sure she's okay after everything. Caden care to help me?"
“Thanks for remembering I’m here too,” the snarky medic muttered as he grabbed his med pack and hurried over to Tosh’s side. Realising that Owen was merely hiding his emotions behind sarcasm, Jack wisely said nothing in response.
A grin appeared on Caden's face as he handed Tosh over to Owen and went to join Jack. "It would be my pleasure."
Now Owen was more thankful than ever that they’d left Gwen and her bleeding heart behind; she would be throwing the fit to end all fits at the idea of killing someone and even though he’d have gladly filled her with tranquilisers to shut her up, they’d have to haul her dead weight around. As he led a still shaky Tosh towards Rhys' SUV he couldn't think of a better fate for those two human perverts. As he seated Tosh on the rear bumper of the vehicle, he watched out of the corner of his eyes as Jack and Caden led the two men deeper into the woods. "Come on, Tosh, let's make sure you’re okay and then we can get to rescuing our Tea-Boy."
Neither Torchwood veteran flinched as two gunshots echoed in the distance. Owen continued checking over Tosh and was pleased to see that besides a bump on the back of her head she had come out of her harrowing ordeal rather unscathed. A sudden noise off to his right sent him whirling about, weapon at the ready, but he quickly lowered his gun when he realised they weren’t in danger. He raised an inquiring eyebrow as Jack and Caden returned to the SUV alone. "We’re good to go."
Jack answered Owen’s silent question with a quick nod, a grim look on his face, before turning to Toshiko. "Tosh, I need you to direct me to where you and Ianto came from."
Nodding her head resolutely, Tosh steeled herself to relive the horror she’d only just escaped from. 'For Ianto I can do this.'
"So you and Owen seem close," Gwen commented oh-so-casually as she closely studied her manicure.
Rhys rolled his eyes and sighed deeply; this was not where he wanted to have this conversation but from the look on Gwen's face it looked like they were having it no matter what. "I'm not allowed to be friends with your co-workers? Or is it just co-workers that you want to sleep with that I'm supposed to stay away from?"
Gwen's jaw dropped and she stared at him with surprise; never had Rhys talked to her like that before and frankly she was a little unnerved. The big lummox was supposed to worship the ground she walked on even if they were having problems; there was no way he should be thinking for himself. Gwen snapped her mouth shut and responded with haughty indignation, "I have no idea what you’re talking about. I do not want to sleep with Owen."
Rhys snorted his amusement and crossed his arms over his chest. "Somehow I just don't believe that and even if that was true I know you’ve been itching to get an invite into Jack's bed, an invite that’s never coming, by the way, since the day you met him. I know for a fact that the man is completely and totally devoted to Ianto."
Huddled fearfully in a corner, Kieran shifted uneasily as he watched what was clearly the beginning of a messy break-up. Sucking up what little courage he had left, he asked, "Umm... do you guys think you could wait and have your domestic afterwards? I don't mean to be a bother but there are cannibals out there who want to eat us so I don't think now is really the time for this." Having spoken his mind, Kieran was now drained and he sank back down, trying to appear as small as possible.
Rhys sighed again; Kieran had a point. "There is no domestic, Kieran, and I apologise. In order for there to be one there would actually have to be a relationship…” He paused and turned to look at Gwen, “now wouldn't there, and trust me when I say that there hasn't been one of those since Gwen started working for Torchwood. I just think it's time we made it final, don’t you?"
Stunned into silence, Gwen couldn't believe her ears, he was dumping her? How dare he! She was the best thing that was ever going to happen to Rhys Williams! 'Fine, I don't need him and now…’ Gwen had a sudden realisation; ‘That’s it!’ she silently crowed. ‘That’s why Jack hasn’t proclaimed his love for me!’ She could have cheerfully hugged Rhys for unknowingly supplying the answer to her most perplexing problem. ‘Now that I'm free Jack can finally drop this ridiculous charade. He’ll dump the Tea-Boy and finally be with me, like we are destined to be.'
Working hard to conceal her victorious mirth, Gwen nodded her head, graciously acknowledging her former lover’s words. "I'm sorry you feel that way, Rhys, and I think you're right. Our relationship has clearly run its course and it's time we ended it."
Rhys wasted a brief moment wondering why losing Gwen didn't hurt nearly as much as he thought it should have and then an image of Owen's face – and the obvious connection they shared – flashed before his eyes and a faint smile ghosted across his face before he quickly hid it. 'Maybe it's time I started going after what makes me happy for a change.'
It didn’t take long for them to find the right street – as with everything else did, Tosh was precise and correct with her directions, but none of them were prepared for the sight of the lifeless bodies of the cannibals littering the area.
"Shit! What the bloody hell happened here?" Owen cursed loudly as he stepped around the bodies pausing now and again to look closely at one here and there as he walked slowly around. “Huh,” he muttered to himself, having noticed that they all had the same thing in common: a blank gaze. “Guess nobody’s home,” and he chuckled at his own humour.
Horror filled Caden as he blanched almost completely. "It was Ianto," he whispered. "As a last ditch effort he must have destroyed all their minds. Jack, the damage he could have done to himself might be far greater than we originally feared. Jack, he might have destroyed his mind."
Jack paled dramatically, his perpetually golden-tanned skin suddenly white as a sheet, and he stumbled back as if Caden's words had physically burned him. For a moment Tosh feared he just might pass out but then she could see a change come over him as Jack straightened himself up and hardened his eyes until they glittered like diamonds. "We need to find Ianto and now."
Knowing it was up to her now, Tosh carefully scanned each of the houses on the left-hand side of the street and then she turned and repeated the action on the right-hand side until finally, satisfied that she was right, she pointed to one mid-way down on the left-hand side. "That one, that's the one I ran out of."
Tosh had barely finished speaking before Jack took off in a dead run for the structure, Webley in hand and his coattails flying out behind him. He no longer cared about avoiding the bodies of the fallen cannibals and Owen heard the distinct sound of break bone as Jack trod heavily on an out-flung arm. Sharing a knowing look amongst them, the other three drew their weapons and quickly chased after their leader although they were slightly more respectful of their enemy than Jack and they avoided stomping on them whenever possible.
Bursting through the door just seconds behind their captain, Tosh, Caden and Owen came to such an abrupt halt that Owen actually ploughed into Tosh and nearly knocked her off her feet. The tableau laid out before them simply broke their hearts and rendered them speechless and motionless.
Huddled on the floor in front of them sat Jack cradling Ianto’s limp motionless body against his chest. A choked sob escaped Tosh's mouth before she turned and buried her face in Caden's chest; fighting his own tears, the knight automatically brought his arms up to wrap tightly around her. As for Owen, the normally stoic medic felt his own eyes get a little watery and he wished he had someone there to hold him; ‘If only Rhys were here with us, instead of babysitting that stupid bitch’. Knowing he needed to be on his A-game for Ianto’s sake, Owen resolutely forced his emotions down deep and surveyed what little of Ianto he could see at the moment. 'Come on, Alien-Boy, don't do this to Jack or to us!'
Jack didn't hear the others come in nor did he see the effect the sight of Ianto’s still form had on them; his entire world had shrunk to the man he held in his arms, the slow, almost imperceptible rise and fall of his chest and the scent of his beloved mate, just barely noticeable above the stench of the charnel house around them. Everything else had fallen away the moment he’d seen his Welshman lying still as a corpse on the filthy floor surrounded by his captors. Jack had given the cannibal closest to Ianto a vicious kick as much to move him out of the way as to vent his anger as he’d dropped to his knees and gathered Ianto into his arms.
Reluctant to let Ianto out of his sight, Jack nonetheless closed his eyes and lowered his own mental shields; “I love you, Ianto Jones,”he whispered as entered Ianto's mind.
Ianto's mindscape, which usually looked like a gentleman’s old-fashioned study with well-stocked bookshelves lining the walls from floor to ceiling, a couple of comfortable chairs upholstered in dark red tufted leather for sitting and for ease of reading behind each chair stood a tall lamp which cast a warm glow on the pages and left the corners in shadow. Jack loved those chairs; he knew that they could fit two without a problem because he'd tested the theory before. He truly enjoyed curling up with Ianto on his lap as they talked over their day, or made plans for their future, while cups of Ianto’s special ‘Jack’ blend of coffee steamed away on the table beside them.
Now the once pristine study lay in ruin; the shelves had been stripped of their many volumes, which were scattered about the room in messy heaps. The furniture was overturned and the lamps’ crystal shades had been shattered. As he surveyed the wanton destruction surrounding him, Jack's breath caught in his throat; Ianto’s tranquil sanctuary had been completely demolished. Suddenly his eyes widened in amazement as he spotted Ianto partially hidden by books and the cushion from one of the over-stuffed chairs; the young Welshman lay curled up in the middle of the floor of his precious study, unconscious.
"Ianto!" Jack wasted no time in rushing to Ianto's side; he threw the debris off to the side, sat down and pulled his mates limp body into his lap. As he curled himself protectively around Ianto the immortal used his astral form to extend his own shields around Ianto. "Come on, baby, don't do this to me, please! I need you, Cariad, please come back to me," Jack pleaded desperately as he shifted Ianto into his arms and pressed his lips against Ianto's pliant ones, pouring his vortex into the kiss just as he’d done during the near-fatal events with the Cyberwoman. 'It worked once, please let this work again,' he begged the Universe.
Several moments passed and there was no response; Jack was beginning to get light-headed but just as he was about to give up hope he suddenly felt gentle pressure against his lips. Jack's eyes shot open in hopeful surprise and tears appeared in his eyes as he found himself staring into Ianto's beautiful blue eyes. "Ianto, thank god! I thought…” his voice cracked with emotion. “…I lost you."
Every inch of Ianto’s body hurt, from the hair on his head to the tips of his toes, and he could barely keep his eyes open much less clearly focused on his lover. Despite the excruciating pain he was in and the slowly fading incoherence of his brain, he could feel Jack's worry and fear washing over him. "I'm sorry, Cariad, I didn't mean to frighten you. I just acted in self-defense, I swear! Their vile minds were shattering my shields and I didn’t have any choice.” Tears appeared in Ianto's eyes and began rolling down his cheeks; he couldn't understand how Jack could bear to look at him. “I destroyed their minds, Jack; I'm a monster!" Unable to look at Jack any longer, Ianto buried his face in Jack’s chest and his shoulders shook as he wept bitter tears horror and shame.
"Hey! None of that! You are not a monster, Ianto Jones!” Jack pulled Ianto back far enough so that he could look the stricken man in the eye. “You could never be a monster, do you hear me? You did what you had to do in order to survive. The only monsters I see are those cannibals who held you and Tosh against your will and then tried to eat you.” Jack’s grip on Ianto’s arms was painfully tight and there would surely be bruises in the morning. “I don't ever want to hear you call yourself a monster again! Do you understand me, Ianto Jones?" Jack demanded vehemently. “Do you?”
Overwhelmed by Jack’s unwavering faith in him, Ianto gave a shaky nod even though it hurt his head to do so. "I'll try my best, I promise, but Jack, the main problem… I can't raise my shields, they’re completely gone. I'm trapped here!"
Jack shifted Ianto fully into his lap, settling him more comfortably and then shivered as Ianto brushed his nose against his neck. "I can help you with that;” Jack shivered again as his mate brushed soft lips along the sensitive skin below Jack’s ear. “Just rest for now and gather your strength. I'll be back when we’re somewhere safe and quiet for you to rebuild your shields. Okay, Ianto?"
The idea of Jack leaving him frightened Ianto so much that he wound his fingers around Jack’s lapels and burrowed his head inside of his lover’s greatcoat; if he could have crawled inside Jack’s skin, he’d have done it. Jack understood Ianto’s fear and he simply held his mate close to him, relishing his warmth and scent. A few minutes later, Ianto raised his head and offered Jack a small, shy smile; he didn't like it but he knew that he had to let his lover go. "Can you just stay a little longer?" Ianto asked hopefully.
Jack pressed a kiss onto the top of Ianto's head, inhaling Ianto’s scent; to Jack it smelled of home. "I can stay as long as you need me to." Nothing in the world could pull Jack away from Ianto, especially not when he knew how much his young mate needed him.
In the outside world, Tosh and Owen were getting a little worried; Ianto not moving was one thing, that was understandable given the circumstances, but Jack hadn’t so much as twitched a muscle since he’d sat down. "Do you think they're okay?" Tosh made sure to keep her voice low in case she disturbed the two men.
Caden hugged her close to him as he nodded his head. "I think so; I think Jack is using their link to help protect Ianto's mind. Without his shields in place, if he came out amongst even just the few of us, Ianto's mind could collapse completely under the pressure of hearing everyone else's thoughts."
Owen snorted in wry amusement "Then it's a good thing we left Gwen behind; her loud voice and overbearing thoughts are the last thing Ianto needs," he muttered under his breath. As if he’d spoken prophetically, they heard the sounds of several cars pulling up outside the opening and slamming shut of several vehicle doors.
"Jack!" Gwen Cooper shouted as she came rushing in as fast as her injury would allow her followed by Rhys and Kathy Swanson of all people. “Jack, I’m here for you! Where are you?” Spotting him on the floor holding Ianto, she shoved Tosh and Caden out of her way as she crossed the room.
"What’s happened to Jack? Did Ianto do this to him? Did the bloody Tea-Boy hurt him in any way?" Gwen demanded in a strident tone as she knelt down next to Jack and reached out to touch him.
Only her hand never made made contact because Owen moved swiftly and caught her wrist in mid-air. "I think Jack made his feelings about you touching him very clear."
Gwen glared fiercely at him and tried to yank her hand free but when Owen didn't let go her glare got darker and even a little menacing. "What happened, Owen? Who did this? Was it Ianto? I knew it! I tried to tell Jack, I tried to tell you all that he's far too dangerous to be let out free!" Gwen nearly crowed aloud with glee, this had to be a wake-up call that Jack needed. “Now Jack will see that I was right all along and he’ll finally lock that… that…” For a moment she struggled to find the right word to describe Ianto Jones. “…that thing up somewhere so he can’t hurt decent human beings anymore!”
Shocked by what he’d just heard, Owen dropped Gwen's hand as if he’d been burned; he could hardly believe that she had just said that! He knew she was jealous of Ianto's relationship with Jack but to suggest locking Ianto up was simply going too far.
"What did you just say?" A dangerous growl came from behind Gwen.
Gasping loudly, Gwen whirled around to see that Jack was very much awake and that he was glaring at her, his eyes blazing with ice cold rage. Thinking hastily, Gwen put on her most beguiling face. “Jack, don’t you see? This is our chance, our one, best chance. We should lock Ianto away, now, while he’s unconscious! He’s far too dangerous to be allowed out.” Gwen held out her hands as she pleaded with Jack. “Please, you have to see reason! We must lock him in the deepest cell as soon as possible and only bring him out when we have use of him.”
“What exactly are you saying, Gwen?” Absolutely horrified, Toshiko voiced the question they all wanted to ask.
Gwen looked at the Asian woman like she’d lost her mind; “You’re not that stupid, Tosh, you know exactly what I mean,” she admonished. “After all, he’s alien and he’s ours.”
Jack’s very soul went cold at Gwen’s words; she sounded just like Yvonne Hartman, and she was acting like the hated woman as well. Rising to his feet, Jack looked Gwen straight in the eye and when he spoke, his voice was tightly controlled; it was obvious to the others that he was having a great deal of difficulty in keeping his temper in check. “I have given you chance after chance to show me that you belong in Torchwood and time after time you have let your jealousy of Ianto's place in my heart and his role in my bed rule your emotions and your actions. And now you have the gall to suggest that I lock the man I love in a filthy cell just to satisfy your twisted sense of what my Torchwood is all about? This time you’ve gone too far. You’re through here, now get out!”
“What?” Gwen stared at Jack as if he were suddenly speaking an alien language. “You need me here…”
A frightening change came over Jack Harkness as he gave his anger full reign; he allowed the merciless torture expert of days gone by – a sadistic persona he thought he’d left behind him forever – take control and his hand crept towards his hip, his fingers itching to pull his Webley. Jack pictured himself shooting Gwen between the eyes over and over and over again until the revolver was empty and he smiled at the thought, a cruel, mirthless curling of his lips. For a brief moment, Jack revelled in the feeling of pure animalistic exaltation that having the power of life and death over another human being gave him.
Then he gave himself a mental shake; that was the old him, the one who’d been laid to rest by a magical Time Lord onboard a mystical blue time machine. A quick glance over his shoulder at the still-as-death form of Ianto Jones reminded him that there was something far more important in the world than exacting revenge on the pitiful worm standing before him. Satisfied that he was in sufficient control of himself, Jack drew himself up to his full height and stepped forward until he was scant inches from the ‘heart of Torchwood’. “Gwen Cooper, you are no longer employed by Torchwood Three."
Everyone froze. Suddenly aware that Jack was no longer the affable, flirty man she’d come to love and admire, a frightened and teary-eyed Gwen took several steps back as she asked in a shaky voice. "Jack, what… what are you saying?"
"You're fired, Gwen. As of six seconds ago, you don’t work for Torchwood. You’re out, banished, kaput.”
There was a distinctly unmanly giggle from Caden at the way the immortal emphasised the ‘p’ and ‘t’ in ‘kaput’, but Tosh elbowed him in the ribs and Jack ignored him.
“Because you've proven immune to Retcon in the past, I have no choice but to let you keep your memories of Torchwood Three for now, but so help me, Gwen, if you do anything to endanger any member of my team there won’t be a place on this Earth where you can hide from me," Jack snarled at Gwen with fire flashing in his eyes.
Suddenly aware that she might have gone a little too far, Gwen frantically clutched at Jack’s arm; “Jack, I’m sorry! You know I was just teasing you!” She gave a forced laugh, trying to ease the tense mood. “That’s what friends do, we tease each other, you know that.” Desperate for support, the former PC turned a tear-streaked face towards Tosh and Owen. “We tease each other all the time, don’t we?”
Owen and Tosh looked at one another and back at Gwen. “Nope,” they responded in unison. If looks could kill, the one Gwen shot them would have dropped the two like rocks.
“You’re finished, Gwen, and I never want to see you again.” Jack holstered his Webley and patted the leather significantly. “Believe me when I say you don’t want me to see you again.”
Unsure that they had heard their leader correctly Tosh and Owen again looked at each other. Personally they both thought the moment was longer overdue but letting Gwen keep her memories might not be the smartest thing to do. Unfortunately, however, Jack was right; she had beaten Retcon before and there was a good chance she could again. ‘Unless I can tweak it, make it stronger,’ Owen’s mind was already racing ahead, mentally examining the current formula, considering what could be changed, added or enhanced.
Jack had turned his back on Gwen effectively dismissing her and he’d gone to kneel beside Ianto. Reaching out fingers that had a slight tremble to them, he brushed the hair from his lover’s forehead; ‘I’m here for you, my love.’ As he climbed to his feet with his beloved cradled safely in his arms, he turned to find Gwen standing in front of him, her fists clenched at her sides.
As she looked at the man she had once worshipped above all else, Gwen's eyes flashed with pure hate and malice. "If you fire me I will go to UNIT,” she hissed venomously. “I tell them all about Ianto and the fact that he kept a Cyberman in the Hub! They'll either lock him away or execute him for the traitor he is." She smiled triumphantly, positive that Jack would bow to her threat and keep her on his team. “So what do you think about that?”
The temperature in the room dropped significantly as Gwen’s ugly words hung in the air, living things that threatened them all. Everyone paled with Toshiko and Kathy Swanson both gasping while they all stared at Gwen with pure horror on their faces. "You wouldn't!" Jack growled out through clenched teeth. Whether he realised it or not, he’d pulled Ianto even closer to his chest, protecting his helpless mate from the vindictive woman who was threatening him.
Rhys and Caden exchanged warrior’s glances; their prince was still in mortal danger.
“I wonder how long it’ll take for him to die once they start experimenting on him, I mean, being an alien and all, someone’s gonna want to know what makes him tick.” Gwen stared at him with one eyebrow cocked, waiting for his answer; she had crossed her arms and wore a smug look on her face as she said in a gloating tone, “Do you really want to take that chance with your precious little Tea-Boy?”
Jack’s blood ran cold so cold in his veins that he actually gave slight shiver and then boiling rage filled him as he hissed out, “If you ever and I mean ever tell UNIT about Ianto, then I will make sure that you spend the rest of your miserable life with a child’s mind in a woman’s body.” Jack’s threat was not an idle one; he would not let anyone endanger Ianto ‘and if I have to destroy the bitch’s mind, then I will!’
“How, Jack?” Gwen's eyes were as black as her stone-cold heart. "How are you going to do that? I have witnesses standing right here, and they’re not going to let you harm me. Besides, for all you know I may have already put something in place so that if anything happens to me detailed information, complete with pictures, would be sent to UNIT.”
Jack’s eyes narrowed suspiciously as he regarded her. “I don’t believe you.”
Gwen shrugged as if she hadn’t a care in the world. “I wonder if the powers that be at UNIT would agree with you and your actions?" She smirked openly at Jack. “So what do have to say now, Mr… oh I’m sorry, Captain High-and-Mighty Harkness?”
"Agree with what, Miss Cooper?" A new voice, one that was rich with authority, unexpectedly sounded behind them. Turning as one, they came face-to-face with the last person they ever expected to see in the Welsh countryside. Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart was a force to be reckoned with on a good day, and today the look on his face was not a happy one. As he waited for an answer to his question, he looked from one person to another until his eyes landed on Jack holding the still unconscious and limp Ianto in his arms and all at once worry flared in his eyes. "What happened here?" he demanded harshly.
Jack could only stare in wonder at the one man he respected in all of UNIT. "Alistair! What are you doing here?" In the back of his mind he wondered if there was any way Gwen could have somehow leaked what she knew about Ianto and Lisa. ‘No, not even Gwen is that evil,’ he tried to reassure himself.
It was Kathy who answered the General. "I called him, Jack. As Ianto's protector on Earth it only seemed right to call him in; I thought he could be a great help to us and I was right."
Tosh glared at Gwen as she moved past the spiteful woman. "Jack, let us deal with this mess," and the look she shot at Gwen made it clear what she was talking about. "Ianto needs you right now and he should be your only focus."
Jack knew that Tosh was right; Gwen wasn’t worth wasting time over, not when Ianto’s life was hanging in the balance. "Alistair, can you give us a lift? Ianto and I are going to need somewhere peaceful and quiet and I know just the place. I’ll fill you in on the way."
Alistair studied his immortal friend for a few seconds; he could clearly see the tension in Jack's shoulders and the venom in his eyes as for a split second, they flicked in Gwen’s direction. The older man had known Jack Harkness for many, many years and he instinctively knew that if Jack didn't have Ianto in his arms Gwen Cooper would be a dead woman. Given the air of hostility in the air, all of which was directed at the Cooper woman, Alistair wondered if perhaps that might not be a good thing.
With a nod, Alistair smiled at Jack; he was pleased beyond words that Ianto had managed to find someone to love him as deeply as Jack obviously did. "Of course, Jack. I’ll leave some of my men behind to clean-up as I think your team would rather be anywhere but here."
"Damn right we would," Owen muttered.
Jack shot Owen a look that clearly said ‘behave’ before gratefully returning Alistair’s smile. "Thank you." His relief was evident to them all; it would certainly ease his mind if he didn't have to worry that his team was still out in the countryside. He was thankful that he could focus all his attention on Ianto.
"Wonderful,” Alistair nodded decisively. “My SUV is right outside so why don't you get Ianto settled while I give my men their orders?" he suggested.
Jack shifted so Ianto was held more comfortably in his arms. "Again, thank you, Alistair." As Jack passed Tosh he paused just long enough to bend down and brush a kiss on her forehead and then his eyes met Caden’s: "Take good care of her." His eyes next flickered over to Rhys who was standing behind Owen with a possessive yet comforting hand on his shoulder, "that goes for you as well, Rhys. I want my team in one piece when Ianto and I get back."
As one leader to another, Rhys could tell that Jack meant a a great deal more than just their physical welfare. The immortal wanted them to take special care with their hearts; better than anyone else, Jack knew that were far more fragile than they let on. The Welshman met Jack’s eye with a firm nod and a clear promise. "I'll take good care of them."
Jack nodded once more and with one last scathing glare at Gwen Jack left the slaughterhouse as quickly as he could; he wanted to get Ianto as far away from that place and Gwen as he could. There was absolutely no way he could risk letting Ianto emerge without his shields firmly in place until they were far, far away from Gwen. The intensity of her hatred for the young Welshman would overpower him instantly and permanently destroy his mind. If that happened, Ianto would be lost to Jack forever.
Alistair waited until he was sure that Jack was out of earshot before turning his attention to the sulking form of Gwen. "Miss Cooper, let me make one thing absolutely crystal clear to you: Ianto Jones and his kin are under my protection as well as that of one other person that UNIT will never, ever go against. So your threats of using UNIT as a weapon in your sick games will fail and if you even think of mentioning Ianto to anyone I will personally make you disappear and no matter how hard anyone looks for you they will never find you," Alistair vowed and although he never once raised his voice above a calm conversational tone, his words were as powerful as physical blows.
The room was as silent as a tomb as Alistair left leaving Caden and Tosh, and Rhys and Owen standing close to one another for comfort. They’d never experienced the phenomenon that was Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart and it was clear to see why the men who served under him held him in such respect. No one moved for a moment until Caden noticed that Gwen looked like she was going to open her mouth but after a glare from all of them she shut her mouth with an audible click and her glare deepened.
"Don't, Gwen, just don’t; you’ve said more than enough. You should consider yourself very lucky today. The only reason none of us are going to put a bullet through your head is because that honour belongs to Jack." Owen shook his head in disgust. "Heart of Torchwood is what you claim to be yet I don't think you even have a heart. Let's get out of this hellhole." Owen turned on his heel and stalked out of the house followed by the others each of whom gave their own looks of disgust at Gwen.
Within seconds, only Gwen remained, alone and friendless with only the lifeless cannibals for companionship, and as she watched the door close behind the last person out, a dark look entered her eyes. "This is not over, Jack! I will have you and I will see your precious bloody Tea-Boy gets exactly what’s coming to him. I promise you."
Neither Owen nor Rhys wanted to face going home alone not after the harrowing day they’d just had; Tosh had Caden to comfort her, and Kathy was returning to Estelle's to inform her of what had happened. Neither man really cared where Gwen got off to; as far as they were concerned, she could stay in the countryside amongst the corpses of the cannibals and rot right along with them.
Without conscious effort on either man’s part, they ended back at Owen's flat. Rhys still technically shared his flat with Gwen and he didn't really want to burn his home down; he was still making payments. They’d stopped along the way for take-away, although Rhys insisted that what he didn’t care what he ate, it had to be vegetarian. Owen had filled him in on exactly what had happened back in that little Welsh village and the moment the idea of eating meat made him want to vomit. They settled on pizza – the Veggie Special – and beer, and tucked in immediately upon getting in and cleaning themselves up.
Neither was sure who moved first but the kiss between Rhys and Owen was hard and fast, all taking and no giving, not an inch of tenderness or gentleness to be found but that would come later. Right now they needed this affirmation of life; they needed to know that they had survived the most horrific day of their lives.
Curled up against Caden, relishing the heat of his body, Tosh rested her head on his chest, listening to the steady and reassuring beat of his heart. "Do you think Ianto is going to be okay?" she asked quietly. She could still see her best friend lying lifelessly on the floor, surrounded by the bodies of their captors.
Running his fingers up and down her back Caden pressed a kiss on the top of her head. "I'm sure Ianto's going to be just fine. Jack is with him and you know that he'll do everything in his power to heal Ianto. We have to believe that their love is strong enough to overcome any hurdle."
Tosh knew that they would eventually have to discuss what was to be done with Gwen but at the moment she was thoroughly enjoying the feeling of being safe and loved that the refuge of Caden's arms gave her. Gwen Cooper and her vindictive ways could wait; all she needed to know was that she had survived her ordeal and that she was safe with the man she was falling in love with.
Many miles away, Jack lay wide awake, curled around Ianto's sleeping form; the only sound to be heard in the dark of night was the sound of waves gently crashing against the rocks. Jack had planned on presenting this house to Ianto as a bonding gift when they’d completed their mating ritual, but he knew that with its secluded location, it would be the perfect place for Ianto rebuild his shields.
Jack has first seen the isolated house back in the forties, when he’d been flying training missions for newly promoted RAF pilots and over the years he’d thought about it often. Several months ago, he’d discovered that the building and land were up for sale and he’d snapped them up, offering the owners £10,000 over asking price. Working in secret, Jack had had the house restored to its former glory while unobtrusively incorporating all the modern conveniences he could, including a top-of-the-line Italian coffee machine directly connected to the kitchen’s water line. He hadn’t had time to recover the gone-to-weed gardens, but he now realised that they were the perfect project for Ianto to undertake. Working out in the fresh air, listening to the soothing sounds of the sea, would be the perfect therapy for Ianto’s wounded mind.
'And once Ianto is better I will come for you, Gwen Cooper; no one hurts my beloved and gets away with it,’ Jack vowed silently as he brushed a kiss across Ianto's forehead. Giving in to the exhaustion he’d kept at bay for hours, Jack finally allowed himself to relax as he dropped his own shields and joined Ianto in the sanctuary of his room.
Ianto smiled as he felt Jack's arms wrap around him. It would be a long road to recovery but with Jack by his side Ianto knew he could do it. For now though, he was content to simply enjoy the loving warmth of having Jack all around him.
Their owner hidden by the shadows, a pair of glowing green eyes watched as the female plastered herself all over her dancing partner, her body language made it obscenely clear as to what she was offering and from the look on the male's face he was very interested.
"Enjoy your night, Miss Cooper, because you are a great danger to my prince, one that I will enjoy removing permanently when the time is right. But until that moment comes you will be a most valuable pawn in my master's plans."